A brief, vigorous and largely anonymous get-out-the-vote effort is underway in Woodside on behalf of businessman and property rights advocate Chris Shaw. A write-in candidate, Mr. Shaw is up against Nancy Reyering for a seat on the Town Council, but to the extent that it's a campaign, it's one that is "running itself," he said.
Ms. Reyering is a member of the Architectural Site and Review Board and seen as a pivotal voice in support of an ethic that values wildlife and structures that are subservient to the land. She had been running unopposed.
Campaign finance laws require such materials to include information on who paid for them, but the materials in support of Mr. Shaw do not have that information. And the laws prohibit a candidate from coordinating his campaign with activities by a committee or person making independent expenditures.
The mailer shows a sample ballot on one side with Mr. Shaw's name written in; on the reverse are his priorities and biographical information, including a family photo information Mr. Shaw says he did not provide. The data is "undoubtedly from an email my wife sent out to our friends," he said. Neither he nor his wife were involved in any way in preparing the mailer, he said.
"I'm not fond of (anonymity)," Mr. Shaw said. "I don't think it's a good starting point for civil discourse." But he said he knows people who ask for anonymity because they're afraid of retribution should they bring a project before the Architectural and Site Review Board.
Whether the effort is illegal could depend on how the materials were paid for. If a person or group raises or spends more than $1,000 on a campaign, "they become a committee and then have filing obligations," said Jay Alan Wierenga, communications director for the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
The commission does not comment on specific situations, and only the enforcement division can determine whether there's been a violation, Mr. Wierenga said.
Both candidates have filed campaign disclosure forms with the town clerk as required.
Mr. Shaw said that upon learning of the efforts being made on his behalf, he talked with an FPPC representative and with Town Clerk Janet Koelsch to get clarification on his responsibilities.
Three of the council members Dave Tanner, Tom Shanahan and Dave Burow have said they endorse Mr. Shaw's candidacy. Council members Peter Mason and Anne Kasten said they are not making endorsements, and Councilman Ron Romines is endorsing Ms. Reyering. Councilwoman Deborah Gordon has not replied to a request for comment.
Mr. Shaw has said that a fourth council member endorses him, but asked for anonymity.
The Almanac wrote to all seven council members asking for comment on the use of anonymous campaign materials. Three replied by the Almanac's press time.
Mr. Mason said of Mr. Shaw: "He is responsible to follow federal campaign laws."
Mayor Shanahan said: "I'm not involved in the actual campaign I thought election spending had to be reported at least after the fact by whoever did it??"
Mr. Tanner said he had no comment.
The Almanac obtained an Oct. 16 email from Mr. Shaw in which he appears to discuss campaign strategies with residents Annie Kaskade and Greg Raleigh, with copies to eight other recipients: Mr. Tanner, Mr. Shanahan, Mr. Burow, Patty Raleigh, William Fender, Bengt Henriksen, John Hamilton and Carol Hamilton.
"My reaction to flyers is not wanting to 'spam' people," Mr. Shaw wrote. "We cannot put things into mailboxes (illegal) so that leaves us with placing them onto mailboxes/gates etc. which can look like we are selling gardening services. If the trigger has been pulled, so be it let's roll, but I'd prefer to deploy them carefully to avoid looking desperate/low-brow."
"It is a straightforward decision for the electorate which shouldn't require too much explanation," he wrote, adding that he could win with 320 to 350 votes.
Asked to comment on whether he was coordinating a campaign, Mr. Shaw said he was not, that he had hit Reply-All but was addressing Ms. Kaskade about the people acting on his behalf. He wrote to ask that they not do anything tacky, he said, noting that nothing he said in the email concerned the content of campaign materials.
Mr. Shaw said he has since decided to form a campaign committee. "If my greatest sin was not getting the form filed before (the campaign) happened, so be it," he said.
Mr. Raleigh said he nothing to do with the campaign. Ms. Kaskade was not available for comment.
Several yard signs in support of Mr. Shaw and placed along Woodside roads were removed by town staff after someone complained about their location in the public right-of-way, a violation of town regulations. The signs were kept at Town Hall until retrieved, but staff probably let them go without asking for identifying information, Deputy Town Manager Paul Nagengast said.
Ms. Reyering, for her part, is campaigning. She hosted an open house on Sunday (Oct. 25), for which she mailed out stamped invitations via the U.S. mail. She has a website at reyeringforcouncil.com and a profile on LinkedIn, she said. Asked about yard signs or direct mail or Twitter, she replied: "I am available to talk with any voter that has questions and wants more information."
Mr. Shaw said he has no website and isn't planning one, nor has he hosted parties. He is profiled on LinkedIn, he said.
Ms. Reyering's website includes a statement on why's she's running, her qualifications and her endorsements. Her endorsers include state Sen. Jerry Hill, current Woodside Councilman Ron Romines, three current or former members of the Planning Commission and three members of the town's Sustainability and Conservation Committee.
That Mr. Shaw is able to run at all given his late start is a consequence of the Woodside Town Council deciding to hold an election even though the candidates for the four seats were unopposed when the filing deadline passed. Why not cancel the election, as the Portola Valley council did?
In Portola Valley, there were two open seats and two incumbent candidates running for re-election. In August, the council voted to appoint the candidates to new terms in December and save about $5,000 on election costs, despite foreclosing the possibility of write-in candidates, which was noted before the vote.
The Woodside council had to have an election this year because a majority of seats were open, Town Manager Kevin Bryant said. But it's also a tradition. In 1997, write-in candidate John Blake won a seat on the council. Since then, the council has decided to hold elections, even with no seats contested.
With the advent of social media, things have changed for write-in candidates, former mayor Paul Goeld told the Almanac. The disadvantage of not having your name on the ballot remains, but it's mitigated with social media and online forums, he said.
One factor has not changed: ballots for write-in candidates are counted by hand. It's unlikely that complete election results will be ready on election night, Elections Manager David Tom of the county Elections Office said. And it's unpredictable as to when the count will be finished, he said.